Feeding a family is a volatile as investing in the stock or commodities markets these days, and a good deal similar.For instance, when you're eating beef from the freezer that cost $1.79 a pound a few months ago -- while the same cut now reclines in the display rack at $2.99 -- that's called buying low and eating high.
A household pushing a cart along the aisles has complex financial decisions to make: Is this week's special really a special? Have the steaks with the esoteric names and lofty prices hit their high? (And, incidentally, are they edible?) Will ham prices go up or down before Easter? Is the increase in the price of eggs temporary or only a beginning? Have the full effects of the drought been felt on the price of wheat and corn products? Will the price of lettuce hold steady or take off again? (Not too important a question for the food investor since you can't freeze, can, dry or pickle it.) Should one load the freezer with day-old bread or use the space for something less bulky with more saving per pound? Should one stock the pantry shelves with canned goods or invest the capital for a higher return?
One may even ask if one is shopping in the wrong market. Perhaps it is worth the time and money to drive further to take advantage of advertised specials or even to search out a no-frills market some distance from home (just as the stock market investor returns to the over-the-counter exchange looking for bargains). And on and on and on. Every purchase seems to require a decision akin to long-term investment or buying futures.
Despite this bull market in groceries, families must still be fed. So the shopper must turn away from perennial favorites like beef and consider alternatives, the prices of which have all been buoyed up by rising beef prices. Fish, doubled in price if not in dividends, still is occasionally available at relatively moderate prices.Chicken, even at its recent almost 100 percent increase, retains a place among the "under-valued buys." Pork, up a mere 60 percent over the past six months, might be a "special situation" to watch in the coming months. Even beans and cheese, the nutritionists' answer to the protein problem, have catapulted in price as meat has moved ever higher on the charts.
A householder with ingenuity used to find bargains to spring on the family at intervals. These, alas, are becoming fewer as more and more food prices move into the range of the high growth multiples. Instead of searching the store for affordable but familiar protein, one probably should shop as quickly and painlessly as possible and go home to begin a family reeduction program on food previously not popular with Americans -- children or adults. Liver will have to be faced again; less glamorous fish like catfish and carp must be prepared well (or be disguised) and served frequently so that a taste can be acquired (unless, of course, one is worried about PCB in the budget-savers). Depression-era recipes using tripe, pigs's feet and black-eyed peas are there waiting for a resurrection. Even soybeans can be made edible if one tries hard enough.
Of course, this reeducation has a price, too. For with this type of eating goes a great deal of waste food. And, unlike the stock buyer, the experimenting cook has no tax write-off to help with the "dogs."
There is a surfeit of advice these days on how to stretch the food dollar. Hardly a literate person exists who has not read countless pointers on this subject, from slicing the meat thinner and eating less to the latest recipes on how to use the green tomato crop. Despite these pathetic efforts at holding the line, the American shopper will continue to face a constant rise in food costs. (This is one point on which ev en economists agree). So the food shopper has gloomier prospects than face stock market counterparts: Soon one's best investments will be gone, for one cannot hold on to them -- guarding and loving them and getting one's kicks from mulling over stock splits. One has to eat them. Then one must plunge in again to wonder if the bottom will drop out of the $3.29 strip steak on one's freezer shelves before it is eaten.